press release

R. H. Quaytman
An Evening, Chapter 32
November 17, 2017 – January 21, 2018

The American artist R. H. Quaytman creates paintings that are both conceptually rigorous and poetically alive, revolving as they do around paintings’ contested present context. The work and the methodology seems to both safeguard and interrogate the medium’s symbolic historical space as well as its capacity for absolute presence.

In advance of satisfying painting’s customary status as an autonomous bounded object, Quaytman considers the painting’s larger contexts via adjacencies in the installation and the larger contextual horizon of the architectural, historical and or social. This focal shift generates unforeseen legibilities, and connections – we are accustomed to looking at paintings as if they were invisibly bracketed in mysterious isolation bubbles divided from physical and temporal surroundings.

By downgrading this painterly hypnosis, the viewer is able to consider other legibilities: conditions of production, presentation, reception, and circulation. Since 2001 each painting has been divided into what the artist refers to as chapters. These function as formal principle organizing the thematically interrelated paintings. The paintings combine screen-printed optical patterns and photographically based images with subtle evidence of the materials involved—an effect the artist achieves by working on carefully gessoed, plywood panels. Depicted subjects derive from a large array of sources, including the artist own Polaroid photographs, museum archives, print collections books and patterns that are connected somehow to the larger subjects of the particular chapter. The photographs most often capture people or subjects that in some way connect to both the place and the ongoing ideas generated by previous chapter. Sometimes images are found in archives connected to the place. Quaytman has likened this process as a quest to unearth “lost histories.”

To further structure the practice, Quaytman has also devised various standards and systems to determine the material, size, surface, and motifs of her paintings. The role of these rules is most readily apparent in the formats used, a system based on the golden section that yields 10 nesting dimensions. Title, date, medium, dimensions and even collections have all been standardized ironically leading the artist out of what seemed like a double bind at the beginning of Quaytman’s career.

R. H. Quaytman’s exhibition at the Secession will present a new chaptermade for exhibition at the Secession in the fall of 2017: Chapter 31’s point of departure will be two paintings by the Flemish artist Otto van Veen (1556–1629) in the collections of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Quaytman will support the restoration of Otto van Veen, Amazons and Scythians (The Creation of the Sauromats) and The Persian Women through the donation of a sponsorship. The artist became curious when told about the painting languishing in the museum’s storage for decades and was fascinated right away by the unusual compositions. The KHM will lend Brave Women: The Persian Women to be transferred to the Secession as part of the exhibition. The picture illustrates an anecdote in Plutarch, showing soldiers of the Persian army meeting their wives, mothers and daughters as they try to retreat from battle behind the city’s walls. Approaching them, the women expose their genitals, shouting, “Whither are you rushing so fast, you biggest cowards in the whole world? Surely you cannot, in your flight, slink in here whence you came forth.”(1) Mortified by their words, the men turn back to battle and vanquish the enemy.

The hallmark of Quaytman’s approach is that her work does not merely present discoveries: the process of discovery itself becomes part of the compositional structure of the painting, showing that indeed we cannot go back from where we came.

(1) Plutarch, De Mulierum Virtutibus (Bravery of Women), in Moralia, vol. III (Loeb Classical Library, 1931), 493.